Issue 6-32, August 9, 2012
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Cover photo byMarilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
In This Issue
We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Sugar Ray Norcia. Karyl Carlson has a photo essay of a day at the Prairie Dog Blues Festival. Jim Kanavy has a photo essay from the Pennsylvania Blues Fest.
We have six music reviews for you! John Mitchell reviews a new release from Albert Bashor. Gary Weeks reviews a new release from Juke Joint Jonny. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new CD from San Francisco Music Club. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Joe Krown. Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Li'L Ronnie & the Grand Dukes. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new album from Jimmy Thackery & JP Soars. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Blues Blast Music Awards Ceremonies Cancelled
It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that we have cancelled the Blues Blast Music Award Ceremonies scheduled for October 25th at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago.
After months of work the negotiations with Legend's have broken down. We were not able to get a fair workable agreement with the new management at Legends so we are reluctantly cancelling the festivities.
The voting results will now be announced in early September.
Featured Blues Interview - Sugar Ray Norcia
Ah, life on the blues highway in 2012 must be a life fit for kings, right?
A life filled with first-class flights, limo rides and leisurely stays at some of the best hotels in the world, right?
Well, according to Sugar Ray Norcia, a veteran of traveling that blues highway for well over three decades, perception – especially in this case – is not always reality.
“We (recently) left for a show in Oklahoma City from Rhode Island and drove straight for 30 hours. Then we played the gig – didn’t have a chance to go to the hotel room afterwards – got right back in the van and drove 11 hours back east to Henderson, Kentucky,” Norcia said. “And we just made it there in time to go from the van straight to the stage. Didn’t have time to check into a room or take a shower or anything like that. That was like three days of non-stop activity, 24 hours a day. And I’m almost 60 years old. But we keep doing it. You have to have a strong constitution. You have to do whatever it takes to make the show go on. That kind of stuff happens all the time.”
But, that doesn’t mean that the monotony of van-stage-van-stage-van is not broken up occasionally, as Norcia and his Bluetones (Monster Mike Welch, guitar; Neil Gouvin, drums; Michael Mudcat Ward, bass; Anthony Geraci, piano) were about to enjoy after their appearance at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.
“Well, there are perks. Tomorrow we’re flying to Del Ray Beach in Florida and we’re going to be there for two days and thanks to the way our schedule works out, we’ve got Saturday night off,” he said. “So we’re going to be at the 5-star Marriott, on the beach, in Del Ray, just kind of wading in the sea and having margaritas.”
Norcia and the Bluetones have been racking up countless road miles in support of their latest album, 2011’s Evening (Severn).
Evening managed to kick up quite a stir and resulted in two Blues Blast Music Award nominations and five Blues Music Award nominations.
Especially gratifying for Norcia was his BMA nomination as best harpist.
“It's been more special for me than usual, because I took a hiatus from playing the harp for a long time. When I was in Roomful of Blues for those eight years, I played maybe two songs a set on harmonica, so people really didn't associate the harp with me,” he said. “Although, I've been doing it for almost 40 years.”
Those who weren’t familiar with Norcia’s prowess on the harp are quickly being brought up to speed.
“Now, I've decided to concentrate on the Bluetones and a four- or five-piece unit, playing Chicago blues style, so I get to wail on the harp,” he said. “And people are taking notice. But like I said, some people didn't even realize that I play the harp.”
And wailing on the harmonica is just what Norcia has been doing this summer at a number of festivals scattered throughout the States.
“Oh, man. It feels great to get up on stage and blow the harp,” he said. “Just fantastic. I love being an instrumentalist, as well as being a vocalist. And I actually sing through my harmonica, so it's like an extension of my voice. I'm really good friends with Rod Piazza and Kim Wilson and all those guys and I know they're really happy because people are taking notice these days.”
Just like so many classic harpists before him, Norcia's weapon of choice has remained steadfast throughout the years.
“I play the (Hohner) Marine Band – Model 1896, right out of the box,” he said. “Sometimes, someone will bring me a harp that's all tweaked up and I enjoy using them for awhile, but I'm old-school in my style of music and my style of playing. And I know that all the legends used Marine Bands and just listen to the songs they made. I'm not a real-fancy or technical player, I just play from the heart.”
Norcia is not the only harpist who ever preferred not to get too bogged down on the technical side of things.
“We used to bring Big Walter (Horton) on tours and he’d never even turn around and look at what kind of damn amp we were supplying him with,” Norcia said. “He’d give us the end of his cord with a ¼-inch plug on it and say, ‘Plug that in where it’s supposed to go.’”
As far as the amp that Norcia prefers to plug his own harp into these days – it’s still the Super Sonny Jr. 410.
“He’s (Gary Sonny Jr.) put so many hours and so much time out of his life to developing an amp that is really harp friendly,” said Norcia. “And I really appreciate what he’s done, because I’m really happy with that amp. Night-in and night-out it really does the job for me. But it’s not just me saying that. Guys like (Charlie) Musselwhite and (Mark) Hummel, they love the amp, too.”
The Bluetones first saw the light of day back in the late 1970s and included Norcia, Ward, Geraci and Gouvin, along with Ronnie Earl on guitar.
The group went from playing clubs on the east coast to eventually making its way overseas.
“Back in the late 70s, we were really one of the first blues bands to travel over to Europe and Spain … that was a long time ago. That was a taste for me to get away from New England and to be appreciated,” he said. “I had to go to a different continent to be appreciated, but hey … but we did take the Bluetones across the United States, to the West Coast and California, but I really didn’t start traveling a lot until I joined Roomful. But this year, we’re doing a lot of traveling with the Bluetones, more so than we ever have here in our country.”
Norcia certainly loves playing to his State-side blues fans, and if he had his way would probably rather play 250 dates a year over here instead of traveling overseas to make a living. But with the recent woes that a number of European countries are having to fight their way through, that desire to play over here is almost turning into a necessity.
“Our bread-and-butter has been over in Europe, but with the Euro-zone and the economic troubles going on in places like Greece, Spain and Italy … all those places I make my nut at, I’m noticing that it’s affecting my career,” he said. “So I figure if I’m going to be broke, I might as well stay in my own country. But really, it’s been great playing all across the U.S. to a bunch of appreciative blues fans. It may not be really lucrative, but it’s what we do.”
The Bluetones managed to pull off a trick that a lot of other bands – blues, rock and even country – couldn’t do.
They survived the dreaded disco era.
“Perseverance. We just stuck with it. So many people come up to me and say, ‘I’m so glad you stuck with it.’ But you know, what else am I going to do? But that’s (disco music) one reason we didn’t really travel a lot back then,” said Norcia. “You know, we were kind of against a rock and a hard place to make a living. But, I did make a lot of records with a lot of people during that time frame, so even though it was tough, that’s really one of the most exciting periods of my career.”
As one of the very few working blues units back in the late 70s, Norcia and the Bluetones found plenty of opportunities to back up legends like Big Walter Horton, Roosevelt Sykes, Hubert Sumlin and J.B. Hutto.
It was a time that Norcia remembers fondly.
“The first thing that I noticed was that myth about bluesmen being bad-ass, mean, cantankerous sons-of-bitches couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “They were really wonderful, wonderful caring people. That’s one thing I acknowledged as I was moving through the ranks. At the end of the night – this was before we had made any recordings and was still with Ronnie Earl – Roosevelt Sykes would sit down with us and have a beer and say stuff like, “You guys sound really good. What you gotta do is document that shit. Make yourself a record.’ And that really got the wheels turning. It gave us a lot of confidence. And Big Walter encouraged us, as well.”
In particular, the way that Big Walter went about his business had a lasting impact on the way that Norcia carried out his own duties.
“Just being with Big Walter every night and seeing how he got that big tone out of his amp was a real joy for me,” he said. “I was watching a true master at work. I could sense that it was the end of an era, even back then. I was young, but I could tell there was something special going on. I wanted to soak it all up while I could.”
In 1999, Norcia joined forces with some other All-World harmonica players for a super summit, one fittingly called Superharps! (Telarc Records).
The album found itself nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues category.
“We recorded it in a little studio in Maine, of all places. I remember getting the phone call from the producer asking me if I wanted to make a record with James Cotton, Billy Branch and Charlie Musselwhite,” said Norcia. “And as soon as I hung up the phone, I started writing for it. That’s how I do things. I get inspired and juiced up. And those guys were almost jealous in a way, because I had wrote my own tunes for the session. But the only way to make money in this business – well, one of the ways – is to write your own material. Not so much in the blues, because we don’t sell many records anyway, but still, it helps.”
That thought of keeping a pencil and paper nearby at all times has been around for ages.
“I was talking to Billy Boy Arnold recently and he said even back in the 50s, when guys like Little Walter and Sonny Boy were performing, what made a performance special was for the performer to have his own material, to come up with something different that the guy that came before you,” Norcia said. “And I always keep that in mind. You want to make your own mark on this world.”
Norcia chose to make his mark on the world through music, a process he started almost from birth, as he was surrounded by a father, mother, brothers and uncles that were all involved in music in some way shape or form.
“When I was a little kid, I grew up to bands rehearsing in the basement – not necessarily blues, but all kinds of music. I grew in the area of Rhode Island where Roomful of Blues grew up and they all had my father as a music teacher in the early days, which was real cool,” he said. “So I befriended guys like Al Copley and Duke Robillard (co-founders of Roomful of Blues). And those guys had extensive record collections, most on 78s. We hung out at night and exchanged records and I knew that’s what I loved and what I wanted to do. Music has always been in my bones, been in my blood.”
In what was probably one part surrealism, one part dream come true, Norcia would later go on to become front-man for Roomful of Blues, the very band that he grew up watching, with the very members that his father had taught in music class.
And the way Norcia remembers it, that plum gig was always in the back of his mind.
“I grew up from 15-years-old on, listening to them every week. Not only did I listen to them, but they backed up artists that would come through my hometown. Artists like Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Ruth Brown … I could go on and on,” he said. “And I witnessed that. But what I never really saw was a great, powerful vocalist. As a kid in the audience, I always thought, I could do that. I could do that well. So when they asked me to join, I didn’t hesitate. It was perfect timing for me, anyway.”
Norcia was with Roomful from 1991 until 1997.
“It was some of the best years of my life. Playing Europe … everywhere. Pretty much headlining almost every festival we played,” he said. “What a wonderful experience. We packed houses every night. We had quite a run there for awhile.”
But just like he always knew he would one day join Roomful of Blues, Norcia also knew that was a job that he would not keep forever.
“It was just obvious. There came a time when I knew that I needed to play harp again and that wasn’t the place to do it. I had respect for that band and wasn’t going to push my harmonica on them. Basically, it was just time for me to do my own thing again. This business is all about timing.”
After his departure from Roomful, it was back to the Bluetones and back to full-speed ahead.
Even though it’s always been music or bust for Sugar Ray Norcia, he does occasionally find other ways to occupy his time for brief periods.
“Well, I dabble a bit in making rustic furniture. I take sticks out of the woods and make them into a beautiful bureau or chair … as I’m listening to Howlin’ Wolf in the background,” he laughed. “It all goes together. The Wolf and me, making sawdust.”
Visit Sugar Ray's website at www.sugarrayandthebluetones.com
Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Albert Bashor – Cotton Field Of Dreams
14 tracks; 57.52 minutes
Albert Bashor (pronounced Bayshore) will be a new name for most of us but he is far from a novice on the music scene, the Florida native having played in bands, solo and duo for many years. This, however, is his first record under his own name and owes a lot to an old connection to Earwig label boss Michael Frank who was interested in signing Albert way back in 1993, only for Albert’s then duo act to break up. Albert has been writing songs for years and one on this record was previously recorded by Lonnie Brooks in 1996 after Albert handed Bruce Iglauer a copy of the song when Bruce was recording Kenny Neal at a Florida studio.
In 2010 Albert met up again with Michael Frank and the idea for this CD was born. The material is all Albert’s. Albert plays acoustic guitar throughout and electric guitar on one track, electric guitar duties being covered by a variety of players, including Pat Travers on one track. Ron Holloway adds his saxophone to five tracks (all recorded separately in Virginia) and through a Facebook connection Albert met up with Little Feat’s Bill Payne who ended up playing keyboards on most of the album. Drums are by Chicago veteran Willie ‘The Touch’ Hayes though there are several tracks without drums. Recordings were made both in Florida and in Illinois and the album was produced by Michael Franks and Lynn Orman Weiss.
The CD opens in electric style with Albert’s vision of Clarksdale “Jukin’ Down On Johnson Street”, a song influenced by Albert’s visit to Clarksdale and the crossroads where Honeyboy Edwards met Robert Johnson in 1937. The song recorded by Lonnie Brooks follows – “Rockin’ Red Rooster” – and it’s a really strong song led by powerful slide guitar, an effective vocal by Albert and some additional piano and sax from Bill Payne and Ron Holloway. Whilst the story behind “Poodle Ribs” is interesting I did not really want Albert to recount the tale as a track on the album but I imagine that most of us will fast forward at that point! The tale of a BBQ place that was accused of using dogs for their BBQ ribs is interesting, as is the term ‘hot as Tucker’ which is also explained in Albert’s monologue. The song itself is a funky piece enlivened by Holloway’s screaming sax. I also liked “So Blue” which has Willie Hayes using brushes on a jazz inflected piece and some lovely acoustic guitar. Shay Jones shares vocals with Albert and the whole song is really well done.
The rest of the album dispenses with drums but not with rhythm! In some of the songs the acoustic guitar acts as the rhythm, as in “Tater Diggin’ Woman”, an amusing song in which it quickly becomes apparent that Albert is not talking about vegetable gardening here! The album has considerable variation in style and pace: “One Last Time” is a simple ballad, played beautifully on acoustic guitars and embellished by Shay Jones’ harmony vocal; “Put Me On Like You Do” is far more of a classic blues with harp and slide guitar presenting the sad tale; “Fetch Me” may not have drums but with Bill Payne’s organ and Pat Travers electric guitar chugging along with Albert’s acoustic guitar they are hardly missed.
The title song “Cotton Field Of Dreams” is the centerpiece of the album. Albert plays electric guitar here and provides a brooding sound behind his vocal which describes how some of the early bluesmen might have tackled that initial journey from the fields to urban Chicago. It’s an impressive song, further enhanced by some more of Ron Holloway’s superb sax playing. Ron also plays on the final song, a touching ballad entitled “Lucky Man”. The remaining tracks are mostly in the stripped down format, like “No Place Like Home”, just Albert’s guitar and Bill Payne’s organ setting the background to Albert’s tale of travelling around but always wanting to get back home and “Seeing Eye Dog Blues” on which Michael Frank adds harp.
This is an interesting album which covers quite a lot of ground from acoustic to electric blues with stopping points in folk, jazz and pop. Albert Bashor has a lot of talent and demonstrates his range here. I would be very interested to see him in live performance but meanwhile this CD is definitely worth investigating.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Live Blues Review 1 of 2 - 2012 Prairie Dog Blues Festival
Prairie Dog Blues Festival, held on July 25 & 26, and in its 15th year, celebrated the blues with great weather, fantastic bands and enthusiastic festival-goers. This festival is a two day event however I was only able to attend and report on the first day.
The large crowds enjoyed the wide variety of bands on two stages, on St. Feriole Island close to Prairie du Chien, WI. The line-up was fantastic and lots of straight-up blues and some pushing the boundaries kept everyone dancing and having a great time. The Prairie Dog Beer Girls helped the cause!
Gerome Durham & The All Star Band
These guys set the tone with the tried and true blues. Gerome likes to say he’s all about “the blues”, the “whole blues” and “nothin’ but the blues”. They’ve been playing the blues for over 25 years together so he and his talented band were true to form.
Trampled Under Foot
This award winning-band laid it all out there. With an awesome shout voice, Danielle connected with the crowd and entertained with the right doses of energy and grit – people want to dance no matter what the tempo. Danielle showed her dynamic range by slowing things down only to wind the crowd right back up. Kris and Nick give this popular band great dimension and versatility.
Lead-singer, songwriter and guitarist Mato Naji, fronts the Native-American blues rock band, Indigenous. Mato showed off his lyrical and soulful voice with tasty vocal harmonies behind him. They played blues with heartfelt lyrics and then rocked it with some hard-driving beats and blazing guitar solos.
Rick Estrin And The Nightcats
Headlining the evening, Rick Estrin delivered his traditional great show with his fancy harp playing and unique, story-telling vocals. He and his band are consummate showman and left the crowd wanting more even after a few encores.
Matthew Curry & The Fury
Matthew Curry & The Fury played in the beer tent to the biggest crowds the festival has had in there for years, so Prairie Dog fans got to hear them all night long! Matthew put on a great show with his phenomenal guitar and fantastic voice. Matthew Curry & The Fury treated everyone to a fistful of new songs, along with a brand new ballad. These guys just keep getting tighter and better every time they play.
The Prairie Dog Blues Festival is a good one. Be sure to put it on your summer calendar next year!
Photos and comments by Karyl Carlson © 2012
Reviewer Karyl Carlson is a professor of choral music at Illinois State University and is an eclectic music lover.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Juke Joint Jonny – Pure And Simple
12 tracks: 46:37
Make no mistake about it. The little blurb “File Under Blues” on the back of the CD cover of Juke Joint Jonny’s release Pure And Simple indicates that’s exactly where this work should be filed under. No signs of blues rock here and for the purists at heart; this is a peaceful sanctuary where they can hide.
Dedicated to the memory of his father John P. Rizzo, Jonny turns in a collection of mostly original songs whose heritage lies deeply in authentic blues, blending juke joint dust, barroom ethos and shotgun shack boogie.
Vocally Jonny’s a mix of John Hiatt and John Hammond. It’s those kinds of vocals that are the perfect marriage to his twelve and six string guitar playing that echoes of Robert Johnson and Leadbelly.
He relies on the simple backing of drummer Mike Stevens and Stand-Up Bassist Ben Bernstein. Other friends show up to fill out the sound and the results showcase a music coming out of the backwoods. It’s as if you dug up a time capsule out of the 19th century.
A gin and whiskey haze hangs over opening track “Come On Up” and Jonny’s singing is giddy enough to make you refill your shot glass over and over again. That fun spirit is kept up going into second cut “Joline” which features Mitch Woods on piano filtering the spirit of Dr. John. The New Orleans vibe is so strong that this song alone would go down like gangbusters at Jazz Fest.
The Jus Harp of Mike Stevens is just right for “Going To Mississippi” and along with Jonny’s guitar playing, we are taken for that top-down cruise on Highway 61 that runs smack into the Delta.
Eventually the ride stops at the nearest juke joint and Steve Lucky’s piano playing on Moma Lion is the antidote to jump-starting “Moma Lion” into a Radiator/Little Feat house-rockin boogie with hot tenor saxophone playing by Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs. It’s these subtle little twists that make the music endearing. With having a strong musical endorsement from various guests keeps the music afloat and staying strongly on course as it gobbles blues nuggets along the way.
Harpist Sandy Mack and guitarist Albert Castiglia stop in and lend a hand to “That’s Allright” boosting Jonny’s sandpaper vocals above an acoustic mix of gutbucket rhythm. And who said you can’t sneak in a little John Lee Hooker? Jonny’s “Dry Well Blues” may sound like a rewrite of “Boogie Chillun” but the notes and chords are his own and he isn’t out to pillage old graves.
He also wants to strike a somber moment. And “Unlucky In Love” is a good enough song as any to become a temporary alcoholic as a way of getting over a recent lost love. You want this moment to end soon and it does and instrumental “Edgewood” with its horn section rambles in a funky way casting a brighter light.
And you can’t underestimate Jonny’s guitar playing. His mastery of acoustic guitar comes to a head in the fast and furious “Alameda Tickle” which features Jonny’s best Piedmont playing style.
It’s the John Lee Hooker boogie where he shines and “Juke Joint Boogie” lives up to its moniker with the rhythm section kicking up a storm and getting them shoes shuffling. And the shuffling just continues in “Going Down To Main Street” with Castiglia and Mack turning up once again to make the street corner come alive as boogie fever continues to rule the roost.
The introspective “Changes” wraps it up with a neat little bow. Juke Joint Jonny has every right to sit at the table with other contemporaries John Hammond, Rory Block, Mary Flower and Paul Geremia. Consider this artist as another key to unlocking a chest of true American roots music.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
San Francisco Music Club – Love & Freedom
12 tracks / 65:51
The San Francisco Music Club is not just a clever band name; it really is like a club, with membership limited to only the most talented musicians. The club presidents are the veteran Bay Area guitarists/vocalists Jimmy Dillon and Lorin Rowan, formerly of The Edge (check their older material out out, if you get a chance). They are joined by Eric McCann on bass, Matt Willis on drums, horn players Michael Peloquin, Jeff Lewis, and Mike Rinta, as well as Sakai on vocals. It is like a super-group made up of people you have never heard of before.
Love and Freedom is their self-produced debut release, and it is an ambitious and impressive piece of work that includes eleven original tracks, with Dillon and/or Rowan having a hand in all of them. The one cover tune has been reworked so extensively it might as well be an original too. Over these twelve tracks they managed to incorporate most every funky genre that is available in western music, including rock, funk, ska, reggae, Latin, Afro-Cuban and maybe even a touch of the blues. They did it all with excellent production values while maintaining a positive vibe, and I think this collection of songs will be sure to put a smile on your face.
The first track is “Crazy Lovesick Blues” which shows how well Rowan and Dillon’s vocals work together. It sounds like there are five layers of guitars over the Afro-Cuban beat, but they are all tastefully done. Up next is “4 Winds” which would fit in well in a Jimmy Buffet album, with a laid-back countrified island beat overlaid with horns and a little acoustic guitar. Well, it might be a little too-well written for a Jimmy Buffet album.
“Istanbul” takes a difference direction with smooth vocals and heavy guitars. This one brings in more keyboards, and there are a lot of funky (in a good way) harmonies on this tune. This song shows that these guys are not just good musicians, but they know their way around the studio too. This leads to an ode to Louisiana with “Ponchatrain,” which adds a harmonica, horns and a Zydeco taste to the poppy Caribbean beat which the San Francisco Music Club does best. Sakai adds her vocals to this song and her voice is beautiful, especially when she is harmonizing with the guys.
Not surprisingly, “Revolutionary Man – Bob Marley Tribute” has a reggae beat, and after this song I can start to see the Marley influence in the rest of their music. The title of “Te Quiero” also gives a hint of its roots, but calling this Latin music just scratches its surface, as its Latin instrumentation is a foundation for a seriously jazzy tune. This is some really smooth stuff, my friends.
The San Francisco Music Club chose to include a cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin’” and has outdone my previous favorite cover version of this song that was done by The Firm. I got into an argument with a friend of mine as to whether this is a ska song or a reggae song, but I am writing the review so I am going to call this one a slow tempo ska tune. Either way, it is a winner and I love it when bands reinterpret classics like this into new genres.
This CD ends with an acoustic reprise of “Love Can Be,” which I prefer to the pop/reggae/rock version that appears at number three in the batting order. This one is just lovely as it starts off with a harp and Jimmy and Lorin’s voices, later on weaving in some nicely-picked acoustic guitars and assorted strings. This song has such a positive message and a sweet sound that it is a perfect way to wrap up this project, which I thoroughly enjoyed listening to from beginning to end.
There is a little something for everybody on this San Francisco Music Club release, so if you are looking for an album where every song sounds the same, this is probably not your best choice. But, if you can appreciate twelve tracks that showcase fine songwriting and musicianship and leave you feeling better than you did before you listened to them, Love and Freedom might be just the ticket.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Live Blues Review - Pennsylvania Blues Fest
The second annual Pennsylvania Blues Festival took place on July 28th and 29th, 2012 and unofficially kicked off on Friday the 27th with an onsite jam led by Mikey, Jr. What was once called the Pocono Blues Festival celebrated its second year of rebirth at its new home on Blue Mountain. The expansive grounds have plenty of space for campers, fans, vendors, and musicians, with two stages of music going almost non-stop. Possibly the only drawback to festivals like this is non-stop music. You just can’t hear it all, and you want to. The lineup was full of must-see acts so you had to be choosy and watch the schedule closely, especially once the rain started affecting the schedule. This year the festival offered VIP packages providing VIP ticket holders with catered meals, meet & greets with the artists, pit passes for front-of-stage access, and perhaps best of all for this particular weekend: a covered area to watch the show. Altogether it was a highlight of the summer blues festival season with some of the finest musicians in the field.
Marquise Knox started the festival on the main stage. Marquise is a talented young singer and guitarist whose debut album Man Child won Living Blues Magazine’s Best Debut award, and he has a pair of Blues Blast Awards nominations to his credit. His blues are spare and honest, and his no-frills grit can stir an audience to its soul. His guitar work grabs your attention and his emotional singing holds onto it until the very last note. He is the future of the blues and it’s looking pretty good.
Michael Burks, who passed away suddenly on May 6, 2012, was originally scheduled to play Pennsylvania Blues Festival. Michael Cloeren and crew gave tribute to Michael Burks by featuring him on the festival passes and several musicians paid their respects from the stage. Otis Taylor and his band filled the empty spot on the bill and Otis remarked that although he was happy to be at the festival, he’d be happier if Michael was there instead. Otis and his band proceeded to play a powerful set of soulful blues in honor of their fallen friend and brother in the blues.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation got the crowd bouncing with their New Orleans funk. Led by former Dirty Dozen Brass Band trombonist Big Sam, their NOLA-delic powerfunk lifted spirits in the face of threatening skies. The little big band featured two guitars, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone for a rich, powerful sound that dares you to stay in your seat. Big Sam led the way with trademark dance moves, grooving the Funky Nation.
After Big Sam’s funky set, the skies opened up and poured rain on the festival. As everyone took shelter, an impromptu question and answer session with Alligator Records founder and CEO Bruce Iglauer took place on the indoor jam stage, which led to a listening party for the forthcoming Michael Burks CD. Once again, Michael Cloeren and crew turned adversity into strength, engaging the sequestered attendees by presenting interesting and enlightening, unscheduled material. It certainly made the rain delay less intrusive and gave everyone a moment to catch a breath after a few hot sets of music.
Once the rain paused, Joe Louis Walker took the stage to unleash some patented Hellfire. Bruce Iglauer introduced the band mentioning how proud he is to have Joe on Alligator Records. Joe Louis Walker and band played a soulful, energetic set so powerful it shook the clouds a little too hard and the rain came down again as the band was finishing up.
For a little while on Saturday evening it looked like headliners Billy Branch & Lurrie Bell might get rained out. The storms were hovering over Blue Mountain and not letting up. The decision was made to once again bring things inside to the stage set up for the late night jam. While Billy and Lurrie had already played a laid back set together on the tent stage, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and the Sons of the Blues played an incendiary set of Chicago Blues for a packed room of festival goers not scared off by a little July thunderstorm. They even dedicated their version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” to the wicked weather.
Day two began with torrential rain storms that set back the schedule once again. The sun was shining by the time Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and his band hit the stage. With a great horn section and some stinging guitar, their music got everybody in the mood for another day of smoking hot blues. Bridges’ voice and vocal talents are tremendous and he is not to be missed if you have the opportunity. Later in the day he played a set with just a bassist and his sax man which was equally stunning, strumming his guitar and singing songs by his biggest influences and some intimate originals. Both performances were strikingly different but equally powerful.
Teeny Tucker is a dynamo of a performer and if anyone could sing away the rain it’s her. She owns any stage upon which she stands, dressed to the nines and belting out the blues. Her formidable band matches her intensity note for note, playing the exact right things to accent, support, and accompany their potent leader. Guitarist Robert Hughes is a fluid soloist, precise but loose and not afraid to tear it up. Everyone in the band eventually gets a spotlight and none failed to impress the festival crowd.
Earl Thomas is a highly energetic singer and performer who has toured Europe many times but has not played on the East coast of the United States. Pennsylvania Blues Festival was his first ever gig in the East and he had to take the red-eye from California to make it. His smooth, booming voice, natty attire and whirling dance moves captivated the audience and led to dozens of people lining up at the merch tent to buy CDs and meet the impassioned entertainer.
What can be said about the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty? Patriarch Lonnie Brooks doesn’t tour very often anymore so when he comes to town with his two sons in tow and an ace rhythm section holding up the bottom, you better get out to see it. In the afternoon the trio of Ronnie Baker Brooks, Wayne Baker Brooks and Lonnie Brooks play a set on the tent stage, sitting and picking, singing songs on the fly like they would at home. There was no set list, just a spontaneous jam between father and sons. Lonnie got the whole crowd involved with a sing along of “Something You Got” offering the mic to anyone daring enough to sing the “I love you so” chorus.
Their set on the main stage was introduced by Bruce Iglauer, creator of Alligator Records, who reminisced about seeing Lonnie in Chicago clubs long before signing him to Alligator, the label where Lonnie Brooks has remained since 1979. The introduction was laced with admiration for Lonnie and his sons and their generational love of the blues. Their 90 minute set was divided in thirds with Wayne’s music starting it off. He played new tracks he has recently released as singles on line including “Tricks Up My Sleeve” which was just released on soundcloud.com. Wayne then took a break while his big brother Ronnie played a set full of gut wrenching guitar, bending notes ‘til they broke and playing his heart out –giving his all just like his father taught him. It should be mentioned that Ronnie went the extra mile, or several extra miles, to get to the Pennsylvania Blues Festival from a gig the night before in North Dakota, and if he was tired, it didn’t show.
The crowd was thoroughly primed by the time Lonnie Brooks came out to join his sons and the 78 year-old bluesman knew how to satisfy. His trade mark swampy licks were flying from his Gibson SG and his voice was in fine form as he led the band through a handful of his classics and a show-stopping rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” wherein Lonnie again shared the mic with anyone willing to pay homage to the birthplace of electric blues. Lonnie prowled the catwalk like a tiger, shot bayou lightning from his fingers, and gave a performance worthy of a man half his age. It was inspiring to see this legend tearing it up and putting on a show. His banter with his sons was amusing, he feigned guzzling “vodka” from a water bottle, and joined in a six-hand guitar attack as he, Ronnie, and Wayne all played the same guitar. It was a thrilling way to close out the second annual Pennsylvania Blues Festival, celebrating 21 years of blues in the Poconos.
Michael Cloeren and the staff of Pennsylvania Blues Festival put together a remarkable lineup, overcame bad weather, kept spirits high and music flowing. With two stages of music, and many artists pulling double duty on the Tent Stage, there was plenty of entertainment to found even when the rain was coming down all around. As always, a blues festival in the Poconos is a memorable time and if you missed it, put it on your schedule for next year.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
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Blues Society News
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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society - Champaign, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society welcomes 2012 International Blues Challenge semi-finalist Donna Herula to the Champaign-Urbana area for a slide guitar workshop and performance on Saturday, August 18.
Herula is a Chicago born blues singer and slide guitarist who performs a variety of music from the early blues women and Delta men to recent artists like Johnny Winter and Lucinda Williams.
If you want to learn to play slide guitar, but don’t know where to start, Donna will be offering a slide workshop from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at Corson Music’s Guitar Store, 202 W. Main St., Urbana. The fee is $10, and includes instruction on different types of slides, guitar set up and techniques used when playing in open tunings like G and D. Slides will be provided. You don’t want to miss this event.
Later that evening Herula will be performing at The Iron Post, 120 South Race St. in Urbana. Opening for Herula is local singer songwriter Gloria Robal. The show starts at 6 p.m. Admission is $7.00 at the door. For more info visit http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org/
Orange County Blues Society - Orange, CA
Fullerton, Calif.) - The recently-formed Orange County Blues Society presents its first-ever concert event - "The Muck Blues Roots Festival" - under the stars at the scenic outdoor Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, Thursday, August 16. 8 p.m. Advance tickets available at www.orangecountybluessociety.com or through the Muckenthaler (www.themuck.org). Info: (714) 328-9375 or (714) 738-6595. Portion of proceeds to benefit San Diego-based Better Vision For Children Foundation, a non-profit charity working to prevent and cure partial or total blindness in pre-school children resulting from Amblyopia (Lazy Eye), Autisim, Diabetes or Eye Cancer.
Decatur Blues Society - Decatur, IL
Decatur Blues Society will hold their annual "Road to Memphis" blues challenge on Sept 22, 2012. Open to both band and solo/duo. Winning band and winning solo/duo will represent the Decatur Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis in Jan 2013. Entry forms and complete info can be found at www.decaturblues.org.
Minnesota Blues Society - St. Paul, MN
The Minnesota Blues Society presents 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame inductees. MnBS would like to congratulate this years' honorees: Big Walter Smith, "Blues Performer"; James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr., "Blues Legend"; Dan Schwalbe, "Blues Sideman"; Electric Fetus, "Supportive of the Blues (non-performer)"; Cyn Collins, "West Bank Boogie", "Blues Art and Literature"; Lamont Cranston, "Tiger in your Tank", "Blues Recording"; Will Donicht, "Blues on the Bank", "Blues Song". 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame event will be held, Sun, Oct 14, Wilebski's Blues Saloon, St. Paul. Mn details to follow @ www.mnbs.org
Long Island Blues Society - Centereach, NY
The Long Island Blues Society will be hosting the following events:
9/16/12 Long Island Blues Talent Competition (LIBTC) to select a representative for IBC. $10 donation to help defray winners expenses in Memphis. Location TBA. Now accepting applications for Band, Solo/Duo categories. Requirements on website www.liblues.org
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. • 8/13/2012 - Rockin Johnny • 8/27/2012 -Dennis Gruenling • 9/3/2012 - Eric Guitar Davis • 9/24/2012 - The 44s • 10/1/2012 - Levee Town • 10/8/2012 - Rich Fabec 10/15/2012 - Jason Elmore. Other ICBC sponsored events at the K of C Hall, Casey’s Pub, 2200 Meadowbrook Rd., Springfield, IL from 7:30pm - Midnight - Jun 30 – Matt Hill . icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Joe Krown - Exposed
Joe Krown paid his dues for many years as the keyboard player for the legendary Gatemouth Brown’s Gate’s Express. His current outfit is The Joe Krown Trio that features New Orleans fixture Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste Jr.. The main thrust of this solo piano recording is New Orleans style R&B, along with a healthy dose of boogie woogie and blues. The seven out of twelve originals could easily pass for performances from some past piano masters. The ghosts of Professor Longhair, Tuts (pronounced Toots) Washington and other piano greats have left their marks all this release. As well as the very much alive patriarch of the New Orleans sound Allen Toussaint. Joe is one of the few current piano players keeping this music alive for new generations to appreciate. This stuff is right up my alley. Long time fans of this music as well as those being exposed (no pun intended) to it for the first time will get endless hours of enjoyment.
He manages to create his own slices of the New Orleans sound that remain true to the style while still coming off as fresh. He does this to great effect on the title track, as well as on “13th Ward Boogie”. He also does faithful renditions of classics by Professor Longhair and others. His take on “Rum & Coca Cola” is a sprightly workout of The Andrews Sister’s fifties hit that was a staple of Professor Longhair’s repertoire.
Fess’ “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” is taken a half step slower, but Joe comes as close to Fess’ piano-fingering technique as is humanly possible. He also covers “Pop’s Dilemma” by the late New Orleans eccentric and troubled mad-genius James Booker. I’m not familiar with that particular tune of his, but this rendition is a bouncy and tuneful romp. The Allen Toussaint written Ernie K-doe hit “Mother In Law” is readily recognizable in its instrumental version here. Joe is certainly no slouch either in crafting a slow blues of his own. He offers up four that conjure up legendary blues piano greats such as Big Maceo, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins and endless others.
The love of a genre along with the talent to give the music its fair due is what makes this such a fulfilling project. To hear the songs in their stripped down state, much as you would in a tiny dive bar in New Orleans, makes this an intimate and pleasurable listening experience. If you are new to this type of music this is a good starting place to discover it and then seek out the originators. Old-time fans will derive enjoyment that will evoke memories.Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
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Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Li'L Ronnie & the Grand Dukes - Gotta Strange Feeling
One might wonder why someone would decide to start a new record label in the middle of a devastating economic downturn. EllerSoul Records deserves credit for opting to move ahead, beginning their business venture with a slim roster populated by musicians that were still searching for their turn in the spotlight. The label's release by singer Marion James, Essence, garnered plenty of praise from the critics while two other solo releases by guitarists Andy Poxon and Ivan Appelrouth are nominated for the 2012 Blues Blast Music Award in the Best New Artist Debut Recording category. Another release had Li'L Ronnie Owens on harp teamed with guitarist Terry Garland as an acoustic blues duo.
Now Li'L Ronnie steps out with his regular band, the Grand Dukes, which features Appelrouth on six strings, John Sheppard on bass, Mark Young on drums and John Fralin on piano. Janet Martin handles the backing vocal on five cuts. Three tunes switch line-ups with Owens getting support from Stu Grimes on drums, Mike Moore on bass and Jim Wark on guitar. The program features two Li'L Ronnie originals along with ten others he co-wrote with Appelrouth.
Owens is a twenty-five year veteran based out of Richmond, VA with three independent releases under his belt, all featuring the Dukes... His singing is quite compelling on “Screaming & Crying” with Appelrouth on acoustic guitar and North Side Slim sitting in on maracas and his duet with Martin on “I Won’t Take it Any More” is another highlight. The slower pace of “Love Never Dies” is another good fit for the leader’s pleading voice and Appelrouth adds a spell-binding solo. Owens delivers enthusiastic vocals on most tracks but on a few cuts, like a cover of Chuck Berry’s “C’est la Vie” and the title track, he falls short of matching the level of excitement that the band creates.
Tracks like “Sweet Sue” and the infectious “Can’t Please Your Wife” give Li’L Ronnie plenty of space for his robust harp blowing and Fralin makes good use of his solo opportunity. The swinging groove on Louis Jordan’s “Buzz Me” offers a nice change of pace while the opener, “Can’t Buy My Love”, finds the band sounding very comfortable in the traditional Chicago style. Owens gives the reeds on his harp a workout on “She’s Bad Bad News”, alternating a reedy sound in the upper register with a fatter tone on the other end of his instrument. On the appropriately-named instrumental “Late Night Blues”, Owens and Appelrouth engage in an impeccable musical dialogue, expertly playing off each other’s lines. “Fat City” is a showcase for more of the leader’s raw harp, spurred on by a pounding beat from Young.
This very solid effort gives EllerSoul another little gem to add to their growing catalog. Li’L Ronnie, Appelrouth and the rest of the band consistently deliver tight performances that feature quality musicianship without resorting bursts of gratuitous showboating. I hope that I get the chance to see the band live. No doubt that it will be a rockin’ good time!!!
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
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Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Jimmy Thackery & JP Soars - As Live as it Gets
White River, Jamthack, Inc. and Jordimax Music (BMI)
CD 1: 5 songs; 47:32 minutes
CD 2: 4 songs; 46:25 minutes
Styles: Traditional and Modern Electric Blues with Horns
On the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in October 2011, two outstanding guitarists made big waves! D.C. veteran Jimmy Thackery and JP Soars, winner of the 2009 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, teamed up to produce a 2-CD album that’s “As Live as it Gets.” In over 90 minutes of music, there are only a total of nine songs (four originals and five covers). The reason for this is clear once one remembers Thackery and Soars’ venue. Because they’re performing a live concert on the Blues Cruise, this album’s dynamics are far different from one recorded in a studio. These talented bluesmen play lengthy guitar riffs and horn solos (one song is 20 minutes) to please the crowd and provide ambient music for everyone’s on-board merriment. That said, here are the three best tracks with their three best aspects:
Track 01: “A Letter to my Girlfriend”--JP Soars and the Hydraulic Horns propel this Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones cover to the beginning of the album with jazzy aplomb. It has all of the characteristics an opening number should: catchiness, energy, and the perfect length for Jimmy Thackery and tenor saxophonist Joe McGlohon’s solos in the middle. Even though the lyrics are pleasantly bouncy in and of themselves, listeners should “read between the lines” and lose themselves in all the passion that the instruments provide!
Track 02: “Blind Man (In the Night)”--Originally featured on Thackery’s “Feel the Heat” album, this ballad of a man lost without his love is most notable for its riveting guitar intro and lyrics: “I can’t stand to watch the sunset. It doesn’t thrill me anymore. You know, it always makes me wonder who it was that you left me for….” In terms of intensity, this slow-blues masterpiece is unmatched--the crowning glory of these two CDs.
Track 08: “Hobart’s Blues”--Thackery’s original instrumental is perfect for cruising, whether on a boat or in a car! No single musician can be pointed out as the “star” here, because all of them are in top form and give 110% in the course of their performance. No wonder the crowd cheers before the song’s over: they’re thrilled with what they’ve heard so far and can’t wait for more!
Accompanying Thackery and Soars on the Blues Cruise and this album are Mark “Bumpy Rhoades” Bumgarner on bass, George “Bam Bam” Sheppard on drums, Joe McGlohon on tenor sax, and Jim Spake on baritone sax. All of them are “As Live as it Gets,” as fans of guitar and horn expertise will attest!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
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